We walked towards an open carpark and sat down under the shade. Shelter seeking seemed to be a popular thing to do in this carpark. Many groups of people were huddled at various parts of the carpark. You’d think some event was going to happen here.
“Thus, my friends, is where Hitler directed the last stages of World War II,” our guide vocalised melodically in an Irish sing-song. I looked around, what were we supposed to look at or for?
Sensing everyone’s puzzlement, he continued, “you are standing on the site of Hitler’s secret bunker, the place where he and his girlfriend Eva Braun got married and then committed suicide as the Soviet forces pressed into Berlin… It’s a carpark today because no one knew that this was the exact location for years.” Even during World War II, the Berliners knew of the existence of the bunker but the exact location of the bunker was a state secret.
Germany’s relationship with its past is a thorny one. On the one hand its society as a whole has bravely owned up to its past, on the other hand almost every German can name a neighbbour or relative or themself who was involved in the war on either side. Speaking about the past therefore becomes a difficult issue that the foreigner is well advised no to touch with a ten foot pole.
But as with any society, there are individuals who lament the war no so much for the atrocities but the fact the the Nazi’s lost. These are the neo-Nazis and they exist in many societies in the Western world. I limit the discussion to Europe and the Western world because the lens of history and different focus means that in other parts like Asia, Hitler and Nazi do not have the same resonance – its like how Che Guevara and Mao Zedong or Pol Pot don’t have much emotional resonance in Europe.
The German governments across the political divide during the Cold War may have disagreed on many things, but they certainly would have agreed that Hitler’s past needed to be carefully managed. If the exact location of the bunker was revealed too soon it might end up becoming a Nazi shrine and a spiritual rallying point for the neo-Nazis. So the bunker was filled with cement and sealed up for posterity. Its location kept a secret for 60 years and only revealed the location 2006 (the war ended in 1945) way after a middle class residential district had sprouted and the land immediately above was re-positioned as a harmless carpark next. The carpark was located next to a lamp post shaped in the form of a face – the face of Johann Georg Elser, a worker who attempted to assassinate Hitler in 1939 and rid the world of scourge.
This is not the only place that has proven difficult for the Germans. In 1992, an aerial picture revealed a chilling sign in the German forest, a huge forest Swastika made from larch trees planted to change colour out of tune with the other pines trees around. To fully obscure the swastika, all the trees and those around it had to be chopped down.
Hitler had this bunker built in 1944 as the tide of war was turning against his Third Reich. Most of his forces were lost and his soldiers were on the back foot. The expansive military began to turn backwards in the other direction and Hitler, who did not spend much time in Berlin during the war retreated to the area. By the time the battlefront had shifted to Berlin, the city was exposed to bombing so often that it was safer to stay in the bunker.
Hitler’s behaviour became more and more varied, his decisions more and more erratic. He continued to believe that he could turn the tide of the war, even when all that was left to defend Berlin were children and aged old men (all the vigourous young men had been expended on the battlefield already).
Then came the decision to kill himself. Hitler knew that the war was over, but he feared being taken by Stalin more than he feared Eisenhower’s soldiers. The fear was to be paraded around Moscow like a prized catch as well as his concern that Stalin cared less about rights and honour than the British, French and Americans (oh the irony). He conscripted all the remaining men in the city, they were strictly speaking old grandfathers and children, and he went out one last time from his bunker to pin badges on these youths. Hitler, at the very end hoped only that holding out against Stalin would buy the other Allies time to arrive to Berlin.
The fatal flaw in the plan was that Eisenhower did not care for Berlin. Stalin had wanted Berlin because of the belief that an enemy is conquered when their biggest city is conquered and Eisenhower decided to let the Soviet soldiers face the last stand of Hitler’s soldiers.
Realising that it was over, Hitler decided that he had to kill himself. He used cyanide pills, made no less by the very Jewish slaves he put in jail. First, he transfered power to his closest confidant, and fellow extreme anti-semite Joseph Goebbels and then married his long time lover Eva Braun. Then he had the pills tested on his dog Blondi. Once it was was confirmed that the drugs worked and 40 hours after he and Eva Braun were married, they committed suicide, she took the pill he shot himself. He instructed for his body to be burnt so that his remains would not become a showpiece of Soviet propaganda like Lenin.
A while later Goebbels realising that he and his wife had no other choice too, killed their six children and committed suicide in an antechamber in the bunker.
The Furher and his powerful propaganda minister, for all their bravado, had died in the most ignominious way possible. But perhaps it was for the best that their remains are not realised and were kept secret for so long.
The Soviets found the top secret bunker quickly but despite discovering Hitler’s remains played up a story that he had escaped and was seen in South America, only coming clean that they had found his remains 20 years after the fact. This was the opening salvo of the Cold War.
The carpark was an interesting fact of history, but I had no desire to stay there much longer – no least because the sun was burning my back. We moved on to see the effect of the madness of antisemitism that consumed these two men.
ON THE MAP